Florida's otters are up to no good.
First, in March, a 90-year-old man in Venice, Florida, was brutally mauled by a rabid otter, which came streaking from the bushes of an otherwise peaceful street like a cute, button-nosed demon. The otter went for the man's foot and brought him crashing to the ground -- a classic tactic among predatory mammals pursuing large prey, utilized most famously by the fearsome acinonyx jubatus, or cheetah. The man sustained wounds on his hands and his foot.
Then, last Thursday, another otter viciously attacked a dog west of Boca Raton, in the sleepy community of Boca Chase. The otter eluded capture then and surfaced twice more over the weekend to attack two helpless Boca Chasians on Sunday morning. Since then, the Department of Health has set traps around the scene of the attacks.
"It sounds like what we're dealing with is a river otter," said Gabrielle Ferraro, South Florida spokesperson of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "This is the species native to Florida. It's a water-loving animal."
Although the otter has attacked two individuals and although there were human witnesses to the dog attack, Ferraro said the otter has no known identifying markings or tattoos. "It looks like an otter," she said.
According to Ferraro, the animal could be sick. "It could have rabies. It could be attacking people because people are feeding it. Or it could be attacking people because it's protecting its young."
Not so fast, says Gary Morse, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's west coast spokesman. "I doubt there would be a river otter pups in November," he said.
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Clearly, the truth is more sinister -- especially since river otters are not known as especially dangerous animals. "To have an otter attack two people," said Morse, "there is really something wrong."
Ferraro and Morse agree: If you should see an angry otter, seek help. Call the Fish and Wildlife Alert Hotline, at 888-404-3922. Do not attempt to confront the beast yourself. "If you're being attacked, try to defend yourself as best you can," said Ferraro. "They are wild animals."